Joaquin Phoenix Calls On Gov. Cuomo to Release New York’s Prisoners

Actor Joaquin Phoenix poses for photographers upon arrival at the special screening of Mary Magdalene in London, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP

Joker star Joaquin Phoenix and Grammy-winning singer John Legend are calling on New York governor Andrew Cuomo to release inmates from the state’s prisons amid Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

In a video shared on Twitter by the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, the Oscar-winner explains why Cuomo should release prisoners. Under New York’s constitution, the governor maintains the right to grant clemency to those serving sentences in state penitentiaries.

Phoenix says in the video:

The spread of coronavirus in prisons threatens the health and safety of all of us. When you’re incarcerated there’s no such thing as social distancing and ensuring good hygiene is not an option. Leaders must do everything possible to prevent incarcerated people and those who work in prisons from becoming ill and spreading the virus.

I’m calling on governor Andrew Cuomo to take action in New York by granting clemency to New Yorkers in prison. The lives of so many people depend on his action. No one deserves to die in prison from COVID-19.

As suggested by the name, the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign is a campaign organization that advocates the release of elderly people in New York State prisons, who they argue have been handed “death-by-incarceration sentences.” However, Phoenix’s demands appear to refer to prisoners in general rather than specifically the elderly.

Aside from the fact that many consider early release an injustice against the victims of crime, another major problem of granting clemency is the risk of criminals immediately reoffending. On Monday, an inmate freed from a Florida prison last month after being deemed “non-violent” was arrested for allegedly committing murder the following day. Indeed, prisoners being released amid the pandemic include convicted killers and child molesters.

The organization also shared a video from singer John Legend, who runs his own justice reform organization, FreeAmerica. “The spread of coronavirus in jails and prisons threatens the health and safety of New Yorkers,” Legend says. “Governor Cuomo, it’s time for action. You can make communities across New York safer and healthier by reducing the prison population.”

New York Daily News reported this week that as of April 13th, at least 139 prisoners and 581 prison staff in New York had tested positive for the Chinese coronavirus in New York, the highest statewide figure in the country.

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